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  • Cited by 10
  • Print publication year: 2006
  • Online publication date: March 2007

15 - Kant’s conception of virtue

Summary

VIRTUE ETHICS BEFORE KANT

Most ancient ethicists regarded virtues both as instrumentally valuable qualities of a person that enable her to live well, and also as valuable in themselves by being partly constitutive of happiness (eudaimonia). The four cardinal virtues recognized by most ancient ethicists are courage, temperance, justice, and intelligence. Common among ancient theories of virtue are the following theses. First, the virtues are stable dispositions. For someone to be brave, she must be reliable and constant in her brave acts; they must be characteristic of her. Second, though ancient philosophers often described virtues as habits, they did not take them to be mere habits. Virtues are dispositions that require cultivation and involve choice. Third, virtues involve reason. To be virtuous, a person must not only do or pursue the right things; she must know why they are the right things. The intellectual aspect of the virtues is illustrated by the common ancient view that virtues are a special kind of craft, or are formally similar to crafts in some ways.

Fourth, for many ancients, virtue involves emotions. Plato (ca. 430-347 b.c.e.) and Aristotle (384-322 b.c.e.) took the soul to have both rational and non-rational parts, and virtue to involve both. Aristotle emphasized that the development of virtue requires not merely gaining control of one's emotions, but training them, bringing them into harmony with one's judgments about what is valuable and what virtue requires.